If you have been considering moving away from traditional application development methods towards a more rapid and visual approach to application development, you have probably come across low-code and no-code. The crux of the idea is that you can develop an app using visual tools, drag and drop application components or blocks without needing huge volumes of code.
At first glance, it is easy to confuse low-code and no-code. Typically, the former is thought to target the power users (who may or may not have some development skills) and developers, and the latter is thought to target business users. Even big analyst firms seem to have a hard time differentiating between them. In Gartner’s 2019 Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Low-Code Application platforms, “no-code” capability was one of the criteria for inclusion in the report. However, in its 2020 Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Low-Code Application Platforms, 2020 (LCAP), Gartner stated that no-code platforms were not included. However, platforms or tools such as Honeycode and AppSheets, which their vendors say are no-code, were evaluated as LCAPs. It’s no wonder that we’re all a little confused.
Market confusion aside, it is possible to distinguish between low-code and no-code platforms. There are many small details and capabilities that differentiate low-code platforms from no-code solutions. Most of them aren’t apparent at the UI level, which is where much of the confusion between the two comes from. This blog post addresses the capabilities that set the two apart from each other so that you can better understand where they can fit in your organisation.
What Is Low-Code and How Do You Use It?
Low-code is a way for developers of all skill levels to design applications quickly and with minimum hand-coding by dragging and dropping visual blocks of existing code into a workflow to create applications. Building software with low-code is the same as building software any other way, with the main difference being the types of shortcuts and the amount of reusable building blocks offered for rapid development. Rather than hand-coding a user management system, learning the latest programming framework, current best practices or writing 10 tests before a single line of your app’s code, you go straight to creating something new and valuable.
Skilled developers work smarter and faster with low-code platforms as they are not hamstrung by repetitive coding or duplicating work. Instead, they focus on creating the 10 percent of an application that makes it different (by only focusing on the business requirements), using their development experience and skills to architect it all and leaving the grunt work to the low-code tool or platform. The advantages of using low-code app development include:
- Speed: With low-code, you can build apps for multiple platforms simultaneously and show stakeholders working examples and prototypes in days, or even hours.
- More resources: If you’re working on a big project, you no longer have to wait for developers with specialized skills to finish up another lengthy project, which means things get done more quickly and at a lower cost.
- Low risk/high ROI: With low-code, robust security processes, data integration, and cross-platform support are already built in and can be easily customized—which means less risk and more time to focus on your business.
- One-click deployment: With low-code, a single click is all it takes to send your application to production. Launch day is no longer a nerve-wracking experience.
If you only have a smattering of development knowledge, most low-code platforms will be difficult to master quickly. Additionally, although low-code makes it possible to create a working application fast, low-code tools can stop just short of enabling the development of enterprise apps. Such limitations are easily overcome by consulting or partnering with an experienced technology partner, who often has additional insights and capabilities to assist you with larger development projects. Another pressing issue may be the lack of flexibility in extending the low code platform itself from its off the shelf behaviour for more complex business cases. However, for such instances, an experienced technology partner could assist in getting custom hand-coded components developed, to extend the out of the shelf platform capabilities.
What about No-Code?
No-code solutions also feature drag-and-drop, visual development. However, unlike low-code, they mostly cater to business professionals who may not know any actual programming languages but want to develop an application for a specific use case—often for their department. In other words, no-code allows organisations to equip teams with the tools they need to create applications without formal development training.
Mostly, the off-the-shelf functionality is generalised for common industry business scenarios and everything the no-code vendor thinks the user needs to build an app is already built into the tool. Some examples of No-code solutions include popular blogging platforms and e-commerce website design companies that have prebuilt pages you can use to launch your blog or business in minutes.
Why use No-Code?
No-code is great if you need a simple app to solve a single business or department problem or prove a conceptual idea with rapid prototyping, and you don’t want to wait for IT to build and deliver it 3-6 months from now. No-code platforms require very little training, so anyone in your organisation can build an app, usually in the realm of business process management, such as expense approvals. No-code gives business users the freedom to address an immediate need without diverting IT from mission-critical development projects.
The Downside of No-Code
In most use cases, MOQdigital does not recommend using No-Code platforms, as these can result in situations where people are developing apps without proper supervision or consideration. Predictably, the results can lead to security concerns, lack of best practices, compliance issues, integration problems, apps that use more resources than necessary, and increased technical debt (debt that businesses eventually have to pay with time, money, and resources).
Low-Code vs No-Code: When to use What
Both low-code and no-code platforms are built with the same thing in mind: speed. But how do you know when to use one and not the other? The sections about advantages and disadvantages hint at the answer to this question, but let’s dig a little deeper.
Low-code is good for developing standalone mobile and web apps and portals that are likely to require integration with other systems and several data sources. In fact, it can be used for just about anything except highly sophisticated, mission-critical systems that are integrated with multiple backends and external data sources and API’s. No-code tools, by contrast, should only be used for front-end use-cases. Even then, No-Code tools should only be used when no other options are possible. Power users and developers use low-code to quickly deliver applications, and to shift their efforts away from commodity programming tasks to more complex and unique work that has bigger impact and more value to the organization.
Unless you are developing only the simplest applications, and require little in the way of customisation, low-code is likely the better option. Low-code enables you to build user-friendly, responsive apps. Although not as simple as no-code, there is still enough simplicity inherent in low-code tools to get those apps up and running much faster than if you were to hand-code them. And, since low-code still requires some knowledge of coding, you know the people creating your applications will do so properly, and your new applications won’t saddle you with security risks or compliance issues.
Is Low-Code the Future of Application Development?
The short answer to this question is yes. Low-code tools like the Microsoft Power Platform are increasingly playing a crucial role in speeding up the delivery of applications. Gartner predicts that by 2023, over 50% of medium to large enterprises will have adopted a low-code or no-code as one of their strategic application platforms and that low-code will be responsible for more than 65% of application development activity by 2024.
MOQdigital believes that the pressure to deliver digital solutions to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic is one of the reasons for the accelerated adoption of low-code and no-code. Another reason is that only the largest, richest companies have access to the best tech talent and most advanced development tools. Low-code tools level the playing field, giving organisations of all sizes the power to do more with their existing resources, who can create applications with little to no knowledge of traditional programming languages, machine code or the development work behind the platform's configurable components.
Microsoft Power Apps: MOQdigital’s tool of choice
Microsoft Power Apps is MOQdigital’s preferred Low-Code development tool and can address the full spectrum of enterprise use cases for mobile, web, and core systems. It offers visual development that is the mainstay of low-code, but it adds AI-assisted development to guide developers through processes, suggesting the next best actions and sources for help, eliminating friction and long lead times.
Power Apps can allow you and your organisation to quickly innovate and integrate built applications with the broader functions of the Microsoft Power Platform. If you would like to learn more about Power Apps, MOQdigital recently hosted a few webinars on extending Microsoft Teams Functionality using Power Apps, and some essential practices for the Power Platform. Additionally, if you would like to learn how MOQdigital can assist you with your application development, please contact us here.